Why Keep a Journal? The examined life and happiness.

Today I’d like to say a little something about keeping a journal of your thoughts and feelings.

Why bother?

Personally my top four reasons are: memory consolidation, emotional awareness and intelligence, greater happiness (see ‘positivity bias’ below), and being more articulate in face to face conversation.

Crucially, journals are very personal so don’t feel like you have to contort yourself into someone else’s writing style and frame. Pick out issues which matter to you personally, for example if you’re feeling underappreciated or down in the dumps try gratitude journaling. Or if you want to make the most of a holiday, holster the camera, and pick up your pen, switch on all your senses, to tell more than the proverbial thousand words, describing not only what you see but what you can smell, hear, taste, feel, and are reminded of.

Only have 2 minutes to spare?

Here’s a tip: try Michelle Gielan’s ‘The Doubler’.

Reflect back over the last 24 hours and whittle this reflection down to the single most meaningful experiences you had, now set a stopwatch for 2mins, and go! you have 2 mins to describe how you felt. The idea is your trying to relive the experience, if sustained over a period of time you’ll notice a trajectory of meaning as the dots are connected. Perhaps your most meaningful experience was tucking your children into bed. The next day it might be kissing goodbye. And the day after making pizza with your children. A pattern has emerged. You may decide, fantastic I value them most in life so it’s right and proper they’re central. Journalling about this can help to notice lapses in these experience over time. It can also help you to reflect ah hah I’ve long wanted to widen my ‘meaning portfolio’, I’ve now identified the parts, and what makes them meaningful, I can now look to bring in my spouse and friends into my meaning portfolio.

The great thing about gratitude journals is ‘positivity bias’, the opposite of ‘negativity bias.’ To be clear you cannot woo the negatives away by simply thinking happy thoughts, they’re still there, if you can change the negatives in the world then go for it. Change them! Yea, Demand the impossible!

But no matter how great the negatives there are positives out there if you look hard enough. Perhaps someone told you your bag is undone, or stopped to keep granny company as she rested waiting for her friends to admire a tourist hotspot, or perhaps they helped with directions. I’m sure when you notice these little things you are grateful. You may well try and be the one who does them: in the words of the League try to be ‘your own superhero.’ But here’s the rub: if you don’t take a couple of mins to write it down you’ll soon forget how common these things are lost amidst a sea of less savoury experiences.

To reliterate: the idea is to focus on the good not to pretend the bad doesn’t exist and is not in need of fixing if it’s within your control to do so. I regulary find myself coming back to this quote by Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search For Meaning to remind myself not to be submissive and the ragdoll to the caprices of fortune:

‘In no way is suffering necessary to find meaning. I only insist that meaning is possible even in spite of suffering—provided, certainly, that the suffering is unavoidable. If it were avoidable, however, the meaningful thing to do would be to remove its cause, be it psychological, biological or political. To suffer unnecessarily is masochistic rather than heroic.’

This echos Seneca who said, Why wouldn’t I prefer that war not break out? But if it should come, my hope is to nobly bear the wounds, the starvation, and all else that it must bring with it. I am not so mad as to want to be ill; but if I must be ill, my hope is that I do nothing immoderate or weak. It is not hardships that are desirable, but the courage by which to endure them. (Letters to Lucilius 67.4).

Perhaps like me you find quotes like the two above helpful. If you do perhaps you could try searching out some wise words (ideally between one to three sentences) on a topic dear to you and use this as a kickboard to what you’ll journal about today.

What are you waiting for?

Journaling: the key to happiness?

Today I’d like to say a little something about keeping a journal of your thoughts and feelings.

Why bother?

Personally my top four reasons are: memory consolidation, emotional awareness and intelligence, greater happiness (see ‘positivity bias’ below), and being more articulate in face to face conversation.

Crucially, journals are very personal so don’t feel like you have to contort yourself into someone else’s writing style and frame. Pick out issues which matter to you personally, for example if you’re feeling underappreciated or down in the dumps try gratitude journaling. Or if you want to make the most of a holiday, holster the camera, and pick up your pen, switch on all your senses, to tell more than the proverbial thousand words, describing not only what you see but what you can smell, hear, taste, feel, and are reminded of.

Only have 2 minutes to spare?

Here’s a tip: try Michelle Gielan’s ‘The Doubler’.

Reflect back over the last 24 hours and whittle this reflection down to the single most meaningful experiences you had, now set a stopwatch for 2 minutes and go! you have 2 mins to describe how you felt. The idea is you are trying to relive the experience, if sustained over a period of time you’ll notice a trajectory of meaning as the dots are connected. Perhaps your most meaningful experience was tucking your children into bed. The next day it might be kissing goodbye. And the day after making pizza with your children. A pattern has emerged. You may decide, fantastic I value them most in life so it’s right and proper they’re central. Journalling about this can help to notice lapses in these experience over time. It can also help you to reflect ah hah I’ve long wanted to widen my ‘meaning portfolio’, I’ve now identified the parts, and what makes them meaningful, I can now look to bring in my spouse and friends into my meaning portfolio.

Silver linings

The great thing about gratitude journals is ‘positivity bias’, the opposite of ‘negativity bias.’ To be clear you cannot woo the negatives away by simply thinking happy thoughts, they’re still there, if you can change the negatives in the world then go for it. Change them! Yea, Demand the impossible!

But no matter how great the negatives there are positives out there if you look hard enough. Perhaps someone told you your bag is undone, or stopped to keep your granny company as she rested waiting for her friends to admire a tourist hotspot, or perhaps they helped with directions. I’m sure when you notice these little things you are grateful. You may well try and be the one who does them: in the words of the League try to be ‘your own superhero.’ But here’s the rub: if you don’t take a couple of mins to write it down you’ll soon forget how common these things are lost amidst a sea of less savoury experiences.

To reliterate: the idea is to focus on the good not to pretend the bad doesn’t exist and is not in need of fixing if it’s within your control to do so. I regulary find myself coming back to this quote by Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search For Meaning to remind myself not to be submissive and the ragdoll to the caprices of fortune:

‘In no way is suffering necessary to find meaning. I only insist that meaning is possible even in spite of suffering—provided, certainly, that the suffering is unavoidable. If it were avoidable, however, the meaningful thing to do would be to remove its cause, be it psychological, biological or political. To suffer unnecessarily is masochistic rather than heroic.’

This echos Seneca who said, Why wouldn’t I prefer that war not break out? But if it should come, my hope is to nobly bear the wounds, the starvation, and all else that it must bring with it. I am not so mad as to want to be ill; but if I must be ill, my hope is that I do nothing immoderate or weak. It is not hardships that are desirable, but the courage by which to endure them. (Letters to Lucilius 67.4)

Perhaps like me you find quotes like the two above helpful. If you do perhaps you could try searching out some wise words (ideally between one to three sentences) on a topic dear to you and use this as a kickboard to what you’ll journal about today.

What are you waiting for?

Social anxiety: What You See Is All There Is, or is it?

Today we will look at a way of addressing how to tackle issues such as social anxiety, rumination, anger, getting carried away, among other emotive responses you’d feel better without. The below, among other methods, can be thought of as part of a well being toolkit. I’ve personally found the following useful, although I have no academic training in psychology or healthcare, so please take this as simply my personal opinion of what some, but not all, experts have suggested.

ABCDE method
This method was pioneered by Albert Ellis the founder of RBT, later known as REBT, which stands for Rational (Emotive) Behavioral Therapy. The letters stand for:


Activating Event
Belief
Consequences
Disputation
Effective new philosophy of living well.


It’s premised on the assumption that we are not upset by events themselves, imagine an incident off someone pulling out in front of you, not everyone will feel the same response or honk and shout. If it happens to you more than once, you won’t respond in the same way each time. Rather the difference suggests that it’s your beliefs about what happened that cause the consequences such as honking, shouting, remaining calm etc. The good news is this isn’t inevitable, even if beliefs were only responsible to a small degree, you can do something, that is you can dispute them. If you do so well done! You’re living by an effective new philosophy. Don’t worry this isn’t anything technical cooked up in the Clouds, it is largely called this as it continues the alphabetical pattern.

For example, if I am out and about and my mind begins to wander and I wonder ‘why, oh why did I do or say that’. I can tell myself hold your horses; I’m currently feeling an undesirable consequence of something. I wonder what it could be. ¡Eureka! It’s my memory of an event has given rise to some beliefs like that was foolish. But was it really? In retrospect it may well be. But as they say hindsight has 20/20 vision. But if your explanation could not have predicted the outcome without information you didn’t then have then it isn’t something you knew, as Nassim Taleb observes about the stock market crash in 2008. Although many said they knew it would happen, they couldn’t explain how they knew on information then available, and as such they can’t legitimately say they knew it would happen. Likewise, if you’re beating yourself black n blue because of something you later found out, cease and desist because you didn’t know. Even if it was your role to know, you didn’t know, and can’t blame yourself for not knowing.

A phrase which I find so incredibly helpful that I’m planning to get a tattoo of it is WYSIATI What You See Is All There Is. This was introduced by Danny Kahneman in Thinking Fast and Slow. The core argument sets the scene for how this heuristic, aka ‘rule of thumb’, exerts such an influence on us. In a nutshell Kahneman is following in a tradition of two systems thinking he calls his System 1 and System 2. The former is always on and makes snap decisions based on the least amount of cognitive strain it is generally within the ball park but it’s accuracy can be way off. Whereas System 2 is slow to kick-in, it’s deliberative and analytical, it is called in to back up System 1, particularly when you have a niggling notion something isn’t quiet right.


How can this phrase help?


Well, when you see someone doing something you don’t like remind yourself WYSIATI What You See Is All There Is. That is as far as your intuition is concerned you have the full picture. The thing is there is far more to any story than you see.


See for yourself:


“Will Mindik be a good leader? She is intelligent and strong …” An answer quickly came to your mind, and it was yes. You picked the best answer based on the very limited information available, but you jumped the gun. What if the next two adjectives were corrupt and cruel? Take note of what you did not do as you briefly thought of Mindik as a leader. You did not start by asking, “What would I need to know before I formed an opinion about the quality of someone’s leadership?”


What can I do?


1) Remind yourself as much as WYSIATI appears true, it ain’t. There’s a bigger picture. Realizing this helps to dispute negative beliefs we hold, reduce negative consequences, and live an effective new philosophy step by step.


2) Persuade others to think like this too. Perhaps then it may be easier for those of us on the spectrum to overcome the barriers of being judged before we’ve had a chance to shine, to show what we can do by our lights, to be our own heroes of the Autism League.


Don’t worry about perfecting it though. Just aim to be a better you than you yourself were.


Although little can be done to be completely rational we can try our best. Even Kahneman struggles, he confides ‘The short answer is that little can be achieved without a considerable investment of effort. As I know from experience, System 1 is not readily educable. Except for some effects that I attribute mostly to age, my intuitive thinking is just as prone to overconfidence, extreme predictions, and the planning fallacy as it was before I made a study of these issues. I have improved only in my ability to recognize situations in which errors are likely: “This number will be an anchor …,” “The decision could change if the problem is reframed …” And I have made much more progress in recognizing the errors of others than my own. The way to block errors that originate in System 1 is simple in principle: recognize the signs that you are in a cognitive minefield, slow down, and ask for reinforcement from System 2.’